Are Republicans more prone to be “anti-vaxxers” than are Democrats? The controversy over vaccination resurfaced in Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate after CNN moderator Jake Tapper asked Dr. Ben Carson if Donald Trump should stop falsely tying vaccines to autism.
Carson responded that studies do not demonstrate any link between vaccines and autism; Trump continued to maintain that there was a link. Rand Paul emphasized personal liberty. Some members of the media seemed to glean from the exchange that the GOP has solidified its status as the anti-vaxxer party — a view in line with all of its other “anti-science” stances.
The Washington Post ran a piece titled “The GOP’s Dangerous Debate on Vaccines and Autism” in which it conceded that Carson basically got the answer correct on autism but suggested that the whole Republican lineup might be tainted: “Whether or not the vaccine ‘debate’ did any damage to Carson, Trump, Paul or the GOP among voters is still unclear. But it was a talking point from a testy night full of politicians pushing back against science and ‘big government.’”
Other headlines included “Republicans Ignore Science? During CNN Debate, Candidates Tackle Climate Change, Vaccines” from the International Business Times and “Vaccine Phobia Infects GOP Race” from Politico. Arthur Allen writes in Politico,
The notions that vaccines are linked to autism, or should be given in small doses over longer periods of time – both scientifically discredited – appear to be seeping into the Republican mainstream, potentially undermining a long consensus around the role of government in protecting populations from disease.
This reaction from the media — which has been happy to hint that every brash and ill-informed comment from Trump’s mouth represents the distilled essence of the Republican party – provides a good occasion to set the record straight.
Republicans broadly speaking are not anti-vaccine. A February survey by the Pew Research Center found that 89 percent of Republican voters believe vaccines are “safe,” compared with 87 percent of Democratic voters. Republicans are a bit more likely, however, to support parental choice on vaccination. Another February Pew survey found that 34 percent of Republicans believe parents have a right to choose for their children, compared with 22 percent of Democrats in 2014. These numbers hardly warrant the “anti-vaxxer” label for the entire Republican party.
#share#There are other indications that the issue doesn’t divide neatly along party lines. The deep blue state of California until this summer allowed parents to opt out of having their kids vaccinated based on “personal beliefs.” The red states of Mississippi and West Virginia, by contrast, have long disallowed such exemptions and also have the highest rates of immunization in the nation.
Polling seems to indicate that the main source of GOP hesitation on the question of mandatory vaccination is not an anti-science attitude, but concern for individual liberty, regardless of one’s own beliefs about vaccines. Democrats have fewer qualms on that count, but there’s not much evidence to suggest they can lay any greater claim to be the “party of science” on this question than Republicans can, whatever Donald Trump says.